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Billy Six Interview – Investigating the Luhansk MH17 Buk Video

August 13, 2015

By Eliot Higgins

Freelance journalist Billy Six has recently come to the attention of the world’s media after publishing previously unpublished footage of the MH17 crash site filmed shortly after impact, as well as featuring in Russia Today’s recent MH17 documentary. In this interview with Bellingcat, Billy Six details some of his other investigations into the events surrounding the downing of Flight MH17.

Can you start with your thoughts on the debate over MH17?

Unfortunately public discussion on crash of Malaysian Airlines airliner on 17th of July 2014 has left its rational pathway. There are too many false stories distributed. I´m distressed that the public at large seems to lose interest due to confusion.

You’ve been to Ukraine yourself investigating the circumstances around MH17, including the video filmed in Lunhansk. Can you tell us about that?

Yes, I´m ready to confirm what I know about the famous 14 seconds video which shows a BUK missile launcher on a truck trailer – with at least one missile missing.

As you know Russian officer lieutenant Andriy Kartapolov gave a speech on 21st of July 2014, saying that the car billboard which is visible in the video shows “Dnipropetrovsk Street number 34” in Krasnoarmiisk town as address of car showroom.

And you visited the street itself?

I went there on 14th and 15th of December 2014 to check that place. Indeed there was a car dealer in Dnipropetrovsk Street number 34, but its chief Mr. Jura B. told me that this poster doesn´t belong to him. He didn´t know how to comment on the fact that Russian government announced something different. But he answered that there hasn´t been any state authority or journalist asking him before about this story. He echoed it to me via e-mail on 31st of July 2015. It seems in Ukraine this information was never taken seriously.

34 Dnipropetrovsk Street (source – Billy Six)

34 Dnipropetrovsk Street (source – Billy Six)

Business card for the car company, note the address on the bottom right corner (source – Billy Six)

Business card for the car company, note the address on the bottom right corner (source – Billy Six)

Did you speak to other people in the area?

All people in the streets of Krasnoarmiisk who I asked told me this place wouldn´t be Krasnoarmiisk, although some confirmed to have seen Ukrainian BUK launching systems passing in Krasnoarmiisk and neighbouring Dimitrov.

Do you look for anything else in Krasnoarmiisk?

On the internet Gorky Street number 49 was claimed to be that place in the video (see here) – but I didn´t find any hint for that. Shop owner at this place didn´t do either. That place looks completely different. Furthermore Krasnoarmiisk doesn´t have trolley wire.

49 Gorky Street (source – Billy Six)

49 Gorky Street (source – Billy Six)

What did you do next?

When I read your posts about the location at Pavlivska Street / Nechuya Levyts´koho Street, I went there to check this one. I explored the area and talked with people of the flats opposite that big street on 27th, 29th, 30th and 31st of January 2015. People confirmed that a lot of army vehicles were transported along this street. Well, each day I could see myself. But nobody confirmed a BUK launching vehicle. However several hints matched with the original video. I don´t need to repeat them, you´ve published it already. Just a new car poster had been pasted over the old one. And the metal chimney behind the billboard had been bent.

The billboard in Luhansk (source - Billy Six)

The billboard in Luhansk (source – Billy Six)

The chimney visible in the Luhansk video. Left, from Yandax Maps. Right, from Billy Six.

The chimney visible in the Luhansk video. Left, from Yandax Maps. Right, from Billy Six.

And you managed to find the person who filmed the video?

On 30th of January 2015 I met the person who told me they had made this video. I don´t want to mention the exact flat in order not to endanger those people. But I can say that it was from 4th floor of the Soviet style apartment buildings overlooking the road. From a window in the corridor I was able to have a look, and it nearly matched from there. I made a video from here.

My meeting happened in the afternoon, approximately between 1 to 3 pm. I was ringing the bell. A bald man aged between 30 to 40 opened the door. When I tried to tell him that I´m journalist, he became angry. As I didn’t speak Russia I called a friend of mine from Lugansk who was currently in Kiev who did. She explained to him that I was searching for the person who had made the BUK video. He became even angrier and closed the door. I continued talking with my friend on phone, discovering that she hadn´t gotten any answer. So I told her that I would try again.

This time a small woman opened the door. She was between 40 to 60 years old, smiling, a nice character. Opposite type of the guy. She asked me to come inside the private corridor of the apartments. It was for storing the shoes of 2 renters. I gave her my phone to talk to my friend in Kiev as she didn’t speak English. The flat straight ahead was the one with the windows to the street side. But the woman lived in the flat to the right. The guy locked the door and looked at me in an evil way. He demanded to see my press accreditation and passport, using abusive Russian words all time. It was a moment when I started to fear about the whole situation due to the fact that I wasn´t free anymore … caught by someone who seemed to be afraid himself or a psychopath.

What happened then?

The woman returned after some minutes of conversation on the phone – and gave it to me. My friend told me that “she made this video”, but she had mostly asked about me. My goal was to know about the time this video has been made, as well as getting the raw file. But the guy came closer to me, starting to raise his volume of insults. I gave him the number of my Lugansk host from whom I´ve rented a private room – in order for him to feel certain about me. He called the owner and questioned about me – by this way I got his phone number. The woman who claimed to have filmed the video came back and asked me whether it would be a problem to call the police. I said she could do it, no problem with me. She nodded without any emotion. The man showed me something which could have been his passport, but wrapped by Lugansk Peoples Republic cover. I understood that he wanted to emphasize his alleged pro-rebel position. I wanted to come away from this uncomfortable situation, saying that I would feel locked up. The man answered this wouldn´t be true … unlocking the door and kicking me out. I took a deep breath.

What happened once you left?

All this lasted 23 minutes … and my friend who was all the time with us on the phone encouraged me to run away – police would come! But I waited. There was nothing to hide. But the police didn´t arrive for about 30 minutes. So I left, taking some videos of the highway. Because of this I was arrested after some minutes.

Can you tell me about your arrest?

The police who brought me to “Ministry of State Security” didn´t know anything about what had happened in the flat before. Intelligence gave me food and a room to sleep. No interrogation.

The next day chief officer wanted to see me. He called himself Roman Anatolitsch from Sevastopol. “Sorry for your detention”, he said. So I saw a chance for conversation. I asked him for his opinions regarding the BUK video … for some investigation in a case of which he believed rebels to be innocent. He just smiled. Other things were important, MH17 not. “You can research as much as you want“, Roman said. “We don´t care what is written in Western papers – we are unable to keep up at that level.” I could go, not a single image on my confiscated camera was deleted.

Did you return to the apartment?

In the afternoon I returned to the scene of interest. Another friend of the Kiev-based one helping me on phone yesterday came with me personally for translating. Another woman was standing on the window from which Buk video has been made. She was smoking. The window was always open, even though it was cold winter. I very clearly announced my will to buy information. But she answered: “You have been here yesterday with our (inside-corridor) neighbours already. I don´t have anything to say.” However we found a way to come inside the building once more. But ringing the bell at floor number 4 was without success. We waited. After some time a man arrived who wanted to meet the same people. He explained the small woman from yesterday was the aunt of the aggressive man, and he was his brother. Asking about the Buk video he claimed all of this to be a “bullshit story” in a very trustable way. But he also didn´t know that his brother and the aunt had left Lugansk. We discovered it after some minutes, reaching him on the phone. He said: “Everything was told. Don´t ask anything more.”

On August 4th 2015 I received the message of another translator of mine whom I´ve asked to call once more. His (unedited) answer:

He didnt want to speak … i call him two times … at first he said he didnt want to speak … at second time isaid about your proposition he answered somthing like ” fuck you with your propositions i dont understand about what you are talking, fuck fuck fuck fuck… ” J

Eliot Higgins

Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.

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84 Comments

  1. tourist

    This one has not directly to do with MH17 and the buk, but it is however fun about faked photos…

    Russian army writes “to berlin” on a training bomb and puts it on their website. russian governement tells, it is a fake by german BILD magazine…

    https://twitter.com/JulianRoepcke/status/631458356717338624
    https://twitter.com/JulianRoepcke/status/631459177039310848

    original page

    http://www.%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B5.%D1%80%D1%84/20
    15/%D0%9C%D0%BE%D1%80%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B0%D1%8F%D0%90%D0%B2%D0%B8%D0%B0
    %D1%86%D0%B8%D1%8F22/

    http://%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B5.%D1%80%D1%84/upload
    /resize_cache/medialibrary/fb8/800_450_1d65cf8a9d606d53c3be1bd4536c9d
    ce1/IMG_4322.JPG

    BILD reaction (use google translate!)

    http://www.bild.de/politik/ausland/russland/reaktion-auf-berlin-bombe-42158076.bild.html

    Reply
    • Bob

      Boggled, yes they are the same building but your assertion of simply bending the chimney is false. They removed the elbow and fabricated and put in a whole new one to get the angle shown. Yea they changed it, but not through simple force.

      Reply
      • boggled

        Bob, could be your right, could be I am, could be we both are..
        If you click on the image and blow it up and look at the Billy Six image that has a lot of definition to it, you can see the bend, you can see other items that look to me like the elbow was not removed, a new elbow installed and painted with exact faded paint match to the other sections.

        It is possible they took the flue down to clean it and bend it on the ground or reinstalling it.
        I think they did it up on the roof and never took it down.
        Sure there would be complications doing it up on the roof or off a ladder.
        It could have happened either way.
        It does not really matter..

        As far as neither of us being exactly correct, looking closely at both images, it appears to me the ‘grey flue’ above the read looks newer in the Billy Six image.
        Like that was the only part taken down and replaced to me.
        They never secured the tie down wires and mother nature and gravity did the rest of the work.
        Ukraine did have a bunch of serious storms this summer including flooding.

        Still you could be right, but I do not see them matching up fade red paint that easily.
        I do not believe fabricating a new one.
        In the image, looking at the BillySix image, it looks ‘forced’ with the crumble zone , or inside of the elbow being forcibly changed, not with a tool to do it.
        To me, it looks like they removed the top part, repainted or replaced it.
        While they were doing that, they put additional stress on the elbow.
        Afterwards they did not reattach the hold down wires, and mother nature and gravity did the rest.
        I have only a few years manufacturing duct work and installing, and I could be wrong, but that is what it looks like to me on closer inspection.
        A simple solution, if it was intended on deception, would be to do as I described above.
        If it just happened by happenstance, then my second scenario looks the more likely explanation.
        Just doesn’t appear to be a new elbow with faded red primer paint with the crumble zone of the elbow being so malformed.

        Fare thee well

        Reply
        • Bob

          Boggled, then they forced a 90 degree elbow into a 135 degree elbow, increasing the circumference of elbow and the plate? I design ducting as part of my job, to change the angle as significantly as they have done would require a new elbow to be fabricated. Though they have badly fabricated it which explains the deformation at the bottom Likely it would be 2mm thick steel at least. Do you realise how much force you’d need to do what you are saying they did to a welded duct elbow. Gravity and wind would nit do that. I’m beginning to think that people are setting conspiracies everywhere.

          Reply
          • boggled

            If you look at the inside of the elbow, that is where it is malformed extremely and that was not done in a shop.
            I could see a use of a 135 degree elbow in some situations, but not a chimney.
            There are limits on that in building code on external chimneys..
            External side of the bend is normal as can be for folding over.
            It is all old paint.
            I doubt if it is welded, from zooming in on the larger photo you can see the cleats and bends and crimps and rivets.
            Probably just duct sealant of some sort like plio.
            I suppose you could use 14 ga steel, but what would be the sense?
            I think least required in that application is 24 gauge, but 20 is the norm.
            14 ga is overkill and not required by standard building regs.

            Also zoom in and notice the amount of rust on it.
            It is an old 90 degree elbow bent.
            I just do not see anything about it looking new.
            Yes, I know how to form a 135 with a pipe as your inside form for a bend with strength supported by crimps..
            And yes, I think your right it is strange since the sides are not bulged out I would assume it is a newer installed elbow.
            BUT first, why?
            Second, why go through the trouble?
            Why spend about 2 grand USD to replace it?
            When you can just as easily cut a couple wires, support the sides, put a couple hammer blows in and get it to bend over as much as you want.
            Just for the photo for Billy.
            No reason to put a bend in like that intentionally.
            No reason for Billy to spend 2 grand.
            I doubt it was an act of nature that caused it, it was intentional.
            But that is not a new elbow, or even a less then 2 year old elbow in my viewpoint and experience of exterior paint galvanized steel applications.
            Regardless, I am not gonna piss and moan about it.
            You want the point, you got the point.
            It is a new elbow, it is something Billy or someone wasted 2 grand to do and forgot to reinstall the guide wires.
            Yup, okay, you won the point, I am wrong, go about your weekend and enjoy yourself.

            Fare thee well.

          • Rick

            It is so obvious that the chimney was bent over. Metal flashing torn off. There are a few totally distinct items.. Screws on lower sheet metal on 3rd and 7th from the left. Paint overspray on corner.. Gaps that are unique to corners and edges..

  2. v1234

    But that video shows wrong buks? Isn’t the current Ukrainian version that missile used was 9M317/E not long fin 9M38M1 shown in the video right?

    Reply
    • boggled

      v1234, the M1-2 BUK can carry both types of missiles and launch them separately or together.
      There are a few images you can find of that launcher with both missiles loaded on it.
      So although the launcher in the video shows one type of missile, there may have been loaded another missile.
      Means that although the video shows 2 missiles and maybe a third, there is no guarantee they are identical missiles on it.

      I am also working on a theory that warheads and nosecones can be interchanged as well depending on the target.
      If you have noticed, some nose cones are red, some white, some green.
      I am thinking it is possible they put together missiles parts they found in a Luhansk or Donetsk military base.
      I imagine the investigators are doing that as well to cover all the possibilities.

      Fare thee well

      Reply
      • v1234

        Those missiles are generation apart. How can you make a working unit by taking half of each and bolting the peace’s together?

        Reply
        • boggled

          v1234 Governments when they buy things from contractors always trying to get parts that are interchangeable so they keep down on inventory of spare parts they have to keep on hand for various repairs.

          On a missile, you have a nose cone, warhead, fuel, and the engine that burns the fuel, among other various parts.
          If you have a missile maintenance department, you want to make sure your equipment is always ready to fire. So you have to be able to repair it.
          The BUK M1-2 launcher was a multiuse luancher for a variety of types of missiles.
          So they could use up inventory of old and be able to use new ones.
          They never used up all the old ones as seen on Moscow’s Victory Day parades.

          So I am guessing that they made a lot of the missile parts interchangeable as well.
          I have yet to talk to the right person with proof of this, but I have also yet to hear someone say it is impossible to bolt a 9m317 warhead into the spot a 9M314 warhead goes.

          Just a working theory that has yet to be disproved yet to me.
          Some missiles of the 9M38 series have been also white or green totally.
          So some sort of reasons are involved with the variety of nose cones – I have heard the red ones are for dummy missiles or training purposes.
          Eventually will get to the bottom of it, but for now, it just is one of the things in the back of my head.

          Fare thee well

          Reply
          • AnonymousDefender

            Green/White missile is because during development Army want camouflage on missile, when fleet – dont need it. After introducing 9M38M1 missile both types of missile used together.
            Red cone is protective metal cone on missile during loading or travelling and even firing – protect glass-ceramic radome from damage and dirt.

          • boggled

            Thank you AD.

            The all white missiles were beginning to baffle me for a reason I could not figure out, was it for winter operation? I did not know.
            I could understand green so it blend with launcher.
            White nose and white missiles added questions to my mind.
            A protective nose cone or shield does make perfect sense to protect radome especially when driving across rivers, in blizzard, through trees, etc. on the way to set up an air defense zone before launch.

            I was thinking it was separate nose cone that gets installed for different environments – over water, in winter, or for low or high altitude targeting.

            At missile base they could keep the missiles loaded, but when calls for use in field they would add nose cone and warhead for expected operation and make more specific as needed or not.

            Thank you, you cleared up some of my questions.
            Your expertise and knowledge is amazing.
            Fare thee well

  3. NatalieTheUkrainian

    A quote from the text:
    “…He demanded to see my press accreditation and passport, using abusive Russian words all time….” It reveals highly atypical for people of East Ukraine (and I know those people very well) way of thinking and acting: a coomon person does not know what “a press accreditation” is and would never demand from a foreigner to see his passport and would never use “abusive Russian words all time”. And the whole story looks very fishy for me.
    I think that bell?ngcat just disgraced itself.

    Reply
  4. Andrew

    Ukrainian Armed Forces BUK TELAR 322 sat at base A-0194 just northwest of Lugansk until July 17. Ukraine clearly showed this BUK in a picture they released from Digital Globe from July 17. Sometime between July 18 and July 27, 2014 this BUK, and Ukrainian BUK TEL’s 313 and 333 disappeared from A-0194 and I am not aware of them being seen by anyone since.

    How do we know this video does not show BUK 322 being moved from A-0194 through Lugansk to somewhere else by either Ukraine or the rebels?

    As no one saw the supposed rebel BUK move in the open uncovered from Snizhne to Lugansk, but on the other hand a BUK TELAR that was in Lugansk vanished right around the same time, it takes many fewer assumptions to simply believe that the video shows BUK 322 being moved.

    BUK 322 was supposedly not functional and abandoned by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Possibly Russia forced the rebels to evacuate this BUK out of theater after the MH17 shootdown. Possibly Ukraine went and drove it somewhere for safe keeping or perhaps brought it to its forces at Lugansk Airport.

    Reply
    • Pianoman

      Andrew, this is an interesting observation which casts doubt at the Bcat theory. However, I suppose that it is the white Volvo truck seen in the Luhansk video that may tie it together to the other sightings. I wonder how others would speculate about this.

      Reply
  5. Ole

    So this nice pair living together in that apartment which Billy Six so bravely investigated is the special observation team of the ministry of interior affairs that shot the video according to Avakov?

    Reply
    • boggled

      Good point.
      Another reason the story screams – wrong people, wrong apartment, and a FAILURE.

      Fare thee well

      Reply
  6. DC

    Obviously the correct place, as taken from an image taken in October 2013, which was uploaded and geo-tagged to google maps by member of the public. This image is higher than the video, so can see more. Zooming into the buildings in the background you can see the straight chimney etc. https://www.google.co.uk/maps/dir/Nechuya-Levyts'koho+St,+Luhans'k,+Luhans'ka+oblast,+Ukraine/Pavlivska+St,+Luhans'k,+Luhans'ka+oblast,+Ukraine/@48.546333,39.261675,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m8!1e2!3m6!1s97652158!2e1!3e10!6s%2F%2Fstorage.googleapis.com%2Fstatic.panoramio.com%2Fphotos%2Fsmall%2F97652158.jpg!7i4128!8i3096!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x411fda8e708fd00f:0xdb31aef34fe8e574!2m2!1d39.272476!2d48.542751!1m5!1m1!1s0x411fdaefc7e2dac1:0x96388d0696b9e162!2m2!1d39.2582806!2d48.5519519

    You have to ask yourself, why would the Russian government lie about the video, unless of course they have something to hide.

    Reply
    • freelander2446

      why is everyone still harping on about this the whole world knows what Russia has done the world knows what Russia is doing
      The shame is ours because the world is afraid do kick the bullies ass

      why would Russia lie about the video , why the hell not they lie about everything else.

      Reply
  7. Marcos

    Not the same place. Tracks have different elevations, intersection angles and roadside.

    Reply
    • boggled

      Nope, facts are always right Darrin, It just so happens Bellingcat is on the side of facts.
      Do you need a quarter so you can go call your mommy and tell her how the world is unfair for uncovering Kremlin lies?

      Fare thee well

      Reply
    • boggled

      is that relevant to the article above tourist?
      Just a reminder to keep that in mind, Informative though it may be and thank you.

      Fare thee well

      Reply
    • Rob

      ‘tourist’, Correct!V asserts (via Google translate) :

      “A few hours before the conference, a Ukrainian military plane was shot down in 6200 meters above the eastern Ukraine. For this could be responsible, according to the Ukrainians only Russian missiles or Russian military. ”

      Did you see that “Russian missiles or Russian military” part ?

      Where in that assertion do you see ANY indication that the German Foreign Ministry should have closed airspace over Eastern Ukraine ?

      If anything, based on the info available at the time, maybe they should have closed airspace over Russia….

      Not to mention that Correct!V itself showed an animation where we can clearly see the dozens and dozens of Russian airliners passing over Ukraine on the 17th
      https://apps.correctiv.org/mh17/

      If any country should have closed airspace over Eastern Ukraine, it is Russia…

      Reply
  8. Chef-70

    Typo: nobody speaks Russia.

    Why was the woman so quick getting her camera? Did she know the truck was coming?

    “My meeting happened in the afternoon, approximately between 1 to 3 pm.” then later: “All this lasted 23 minutes ”
    So you didn’t know exactly when this happened but that it lasted 23 minutes?
    Did you use a stopwatch?

    Did the JIT hear these people? I asume they have the raw file.

    Reply
    • David

      The road is parallel with the building so yes, in one way she most likely knew the truck was coming. She spotted it as it was approaching but due to foliage she had to wait until she could get a clear shot. Which means there was no need to be quick with the camera, she could take her time and line up the shot.

      Reply

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